In conjunction with Roland Cloud, Symplesound and Carma Studio join forces to create the Roland Cloud Techno Suite, a comprehensive collection of 220 presets and grooves that encapsulate the history of the genre—from its roots in 1988’s “Second Summer of Love” to the current revolution in melodic techno. Developed by acclaimed sound designer Francis Preve […]
Wave Alchemy has released its new sample pack Ethereal Electronica, a collection of loops, one-shots, MIDI files and more. A playground of musical inspiration for any forward-thinking music producer, Ethereal Electronica creatively blends organic acoustic instruments with seductive electronic elements; delivering an emotive collection of blissed out Chillwave beats, undulating analogue bass, cinematic pianos, textural […]
The hybrid DJ set keeps getting fresh nudges. Now, Roland and Serato have added easy, automatic sync over USB for the TR-8, TR-8S, and the Boutique Series TR-08 and TR-09 drum machines.
And… oh, actually, this is such a no-brainer, I could almost just finish the story with that. (And that’s actually kind of cool.) But let’s offer a little more detail.
How does it work? Plus in a compatible drum machine via USB, and your drum machine follows Serato’s BPM.
How is that different from existing solutions? Well, it saves you the added step of configuring MIDI clock, at the very least. We’ll be able to test this shortly to check it in action, but it also presumably irons out other performance issues that can crop up with MIDI.
Oh, plus, if you didn’t understand any word I just said – this update is totally for you. You plug it in and it works. And rankly, that’s how it ought to be.
How do you get the update? Looks like all Serato DJ Pro owners with Roland hardware will be squared away. This is officially called the “Serato x Roland TR-SYNC update” but it appears you basically get plug and play support in the latest version of Serato DJ Pro.
Why would you want to do this? Well, even short of doing a full-on hybrid set, it can be fun to layer sum drum parts or (on the TR-8S) samples and so on. You could also then go on to sync still more gear from the TR. Oh, and the Boutique TR-08 and TR-09 are advantageously tiny. Even the most cramped DJ booth could easily fit one.
Bottom line – it’s nice to see some challenge to Pioneer’s own link protocol with their CDJ. Why shouldn’t you plug in drum machines and have them groove along? That’s why they’re drum machines.
I think it’ll make perfect sense, but for some reason, Roland marketing have gone a little crazy and decided to explain this not to non-technical DJs, but to actual space aliens. And for some reason all the sync in the product photography is 120 bpm, which bothers me. So here we go:
What is a drum machine? It is … a machine … with drums in it.
What’s so special about Roland drum machines? No idea. I swear I can stop using them any time I want. I don’t really even like music. Watch, I’m about to do something more productive with my life right this second. The official Roland explanation, though:
The legendary TR-808 and 909 are the most influential drum machines of all time and have become part of the DNA of everything. They’ve literally just reprogrammed our genetic code and destroyed our minds and now all music genres and all carbon-based life on Earth have been assimilated, leading up presumably to some kind of invasion – once everyone has become a DJ.
Isn’t making your own beats complicated? No, it’s not, but that won’t stop you from becoming newly obsessed with how the beat is never right and the longer you listen to it, the more your grasp of all reality will melt away leaving you only with this loop. See DNA issue, above.
How do I include my own beats in my DJ set? This is a question that has truly no accurate answer, but if you call yourself a DJ, you’re already part of a global phenomenon started by a surprisingly small handful of people of color (very poorly attributed, as per usual) who just decided to show off and also not to have gaps between tracks and then got really deep into using phonographs incorrectly, so… uh, experiment, if you like, until you find something you like?
I’ve done it again. Long article. Also, not only is this not sponsored product, I now probably have to buy some apology rounds of drinks for whoever did write the original ad copy. Sorry.
There, instead of configuring MIDI, you now have more time to read my blathering.
Plugin Boutique has launched a sale on Wave Alchmey’s Revolution, a drum machine instrument for Native Instruments Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player. The instrument offers the sounds of 14 iconic drum machines, including the 909, 808, 606, 78, Linndrum, Drumtraks, Drumulator, OB-DX and many others. Winner of ‘Best Software Instrument of 2017’ (awarded by […]
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Plugin Boutique has launched a sale on Wave Alchemy’s Revolution, a virtual drum machine instrument for Kontakt and the free Kontakt Player. Imagine the dream of owning a studio filled with the most influential Drum Machines of our time. Imagine having instant access to the TRUE authentic sound of the iconic 909, 808, 606, 78, […]
Plugin Boutique has launched a sale on the Evolution drum machine instrument for the free Kontakt Player from Native Instruments. Imagine having instant access to the most visionary and forward-thinking library of drum sounds and sound design tools ever created. Imagine being able to intuitively layer, dynamically browse and modulate each layer independently with powerful […]
Audiorealism has announced a sale on its ADM (AudioRealism Drum Machine), a virtual analog emulation and sample player that brings the sounds of the 808, 909 and 606 drum machines from Roland. Booming bassdrums, saucy cymbals and crispy snares can be used to describe the sound of drum machines from the early 80’s. ADM contains […]
Roland today unveils the TR-8S, an updated take on the AIRA TR-8 drum machine. We’ve been testing it – and it looks like exactly the sequel we all wanted.
Basically, if you threw out the limitations of the original TR-8, put it in a more attractive case, and expanded the sound and performance powers of the box, of course you’d make us happy.
So the TR-8S loads your own samples, atop a wider, updated range of built-in models of classic Roland gear and preloaded sonds. It’s more playable and immediate, thanks to expanded controls and functions. It has effects sends for each part, plus a bunch of new effects to choose from. It lets you record automation, so you can make the sound shift along with your drum patterns. It integrates more easily with other gear, thanks to separate audio outs, and with your computer, thanks to a multichannel USB connection that also lets you use the onboard effects.
To put it even more simply: the TR-8S makes more sounds, and it’s more fun to play. Oh yeah, and it looks pretty instead of fugly.
It’s still not a sampler – you only get sample playback. And it’s not a new drum synth – while it models the original Roland machines, there are only emulations of old circuitry, not any new models.
But instead of just feeling like an 808/909 rehash, the new TR-8S really feels like a new hub for sequencing and drum parts, one that is equally at home with gear or a computer.
At a glance
Price – US$699 (EUR699 with VAT), available this month.
Overview of what I found essential in the update as far as workflow – basically, a totally killer live machine:
Analog Circuit Behavior models of the 808, 909, 707, 727, and 606 (with some variants), plus sampled sounds
Load your own stereo + mono samples from SD card
Stereo + six assignable audio outputs – or configure up to those six as trigger outputs
Dedicated trigger output and trigger track
Stereo audio input (with routing through effects from input or round-trip from computer via USB)
Master effects, plus configurable per-part send effects, and new effects options
128 patterns storing 8 variations + 3 fills
Program sub-steps, change the length of each part (for polyrhythms), chain patterns together
Auto-Fill for automating rhythmic variations
Lock parameters to steps (yep, p-locks!), or record automation
Works as multichannel audio + MIDI interface when connected via USB to a computer
Tune, decay, and assignable control for each part
Record accent, flam, and velocity via dedicated pad
Save tempo, kit, and knob positions and effect assignments in patterns – and back up your whole set to SD
And in place of the reverb and delay on the first model, Roland quietly made the “S” into an effects beast, with 43 effects in total (want to complain again about how this should have been analog?). That includes some sidechaining powers, and the ability to add these effects to external gear or your computer via USB. From Roland:
INST FX – 1 per instrument
Compressor, Drive, Isolator, Transient, Bit crusher, Comp + Drive, Crusher, HPF, LPF, LPF/HPF, L/H Boost, L Boost, H Boost
Ambience, Room, Hall1, Hall2, Plate, Mod
Delay, Pan, Tape Echo
Compressor, Drive, Over Drive, Distortion, Fuzz, Crusher, Phaser, Flanger, Env.Amp, Env.Filter, LPF, HPF, LPF/HPF, L Boost, H Boost, L/H Boost, SBF, Noise, Isolator, Transient, Transient2,
SIDE CHAIN (for EXT IN)
SCATTER (as one of Fill-In function)
LFO – 1 LFO per kit with instrument settings of parameter and depth
Breaking down the new features
After some time with the machine, there’s a whole lot of different dimensions here that add up to a box you really want to use live.
Let’s not forget the reasons the TR-8 became a hit, shortcomings or no. It pretty well nailed widely-used 808 and 909 sounds and behaviors. But that alone wouldn’t be enough – to become a live gigging favorite, the TR-8 had to also add hands-on controls. And that seems to be why so many people adopted it. The faders alone make it instantly more appealing than a whole host of competing drum machines. It means you can actually play the thing, as if it’s an instrument. So any number of fancy, expensive drum machines are useless as live instruments if you’re navigating those features by diving through menus rather than playing them.
The problem with the original was, the box wasn’t much more than a nice interface to those sound models. Even adding 727 sounds was a paid add-on. And the available effects were limited. Plus there was the weird “scatter” function, which scrambled patterns rhythmic variations and effects in a way that seemed to cater to EDM fans, but afforded very little control. And let’s not get started on the toy-like green case and blinding lights.
The “S” revision does more than just address some shortcomings. It manages to present a much more capable device, all round.
More sounds. The TR-8S has a host of sounds included right out of the box: 808, 606, 909, 707, and (Latin!) 727. (Let’s assume they’re saving the Roland CR-78 for a small Boutique Series remake?) Roland also says these now incorporate new modeling tech running on a new processor, though I haven’t yet been able to evaluate how that compares to their other recent gear.
Note again that this means they’ve modeled the analog circuitry of their original analog drum machines, not simply included samples of the sounds those make. That’s the Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology they like to tout.
The unique ploy here is being able to mix up that engine with other sample-based sounds, including your own.
Sample loading. That “S” in the name is obviously for sample playback. There are a bunch of new built-in samples, plus an SD card slot round the back of the unit. Load your own samples there, and adjust basic parameters (speed, start point, direction).
You can’t load big one-shots, so this is about custom kits, not playing stems or backing tracks. There’s no live sampling capability, either.
But you do get to build kits up from your own sounds or mix and match with the TR’s circuit models.
Smarter, more fluid rhythms and expression. The step sequencer is of course part of the draw of the TR line. But now you can break up some of the potential monotony of that interface. Sub-steps and fills let you program in more complex rhythms. (The original TR-8 let you do basic fills and variations, but now you can hit one button and program in exact sub-steps.)
You can also automate fills and variations. You can add 8 variations and chain up to 128 steps. (The previous model lacked chaining and additional variations.)
In addition to step-programming accent, you can also use a single, velocity-sensitive pad for adding more levels of velocity live. This isn’t an MPC by any means, but it fits the workflow of the Roland, while allowing more nuanced performances. You can add flam, too, via the step sequencer. And all of this is just as easy as toggling steps normally is – so complex rhythms become easily accessible.
This unassuming green pad lets you add velocity and not just push-button steps and accents.
The other reason all of this matters: think of the TR-8S as a powerful rhythm programmer. Because it has trigger outs, you can use this power with synths and other drum machines, not just the internal TR sound engine.
More patterns and automatic chaining mean the TR-8S lets you make more complicated rhythms – but while retaining the simplicity of the original. The same is true of adding subdivisions to a rhythm. Tap “sub” and you can add more complex rhythms on an individual step.
For automating variations, you can now use sophisticated fill controls.
Powerful effects. The first TR-8 had some basic effects, but the TR-8S has effects that work both on individual parts and on the master, with more complete control over each. There are independent stereo reverb and delay sends for each instrument.
You simply dial in the effect you want, and then it’s always there for use from the CTRL knob on each part.
Above those signature faders, a new third “control” knob is assignable and lets you tweak parameters and effects sends for each part.
Everything is tweakable. Each sound gets its own tune and decay parameter, plus an assignable controller (the additional knob) which you can use to gain access to more parameters or to the effects sends. This means you can take those TR sounds and warp them, or work with your own samples in new ways. And those three knobs let you shape sounds as you play.
You can also record motion automation and add it to patterns. That was definitely an oversight on the original TR-8, but now that it’s here, it pairs nicely with the new rhythmic features and assignable controllers.
Multichannel connections with gear and computers. Separate outputs – at last!
For use with gear, you get eight separate outputs, plus a stereo external audio input. This means you could trigger external gear, use external effects, add internal effects to external gear, and use external mixing and recording. (You don’t get melodic sequencing – you’ll have to do that externally – but the interface of the TR-8 isn’t really built around that anyway.)
Connect via USB, and you get not only MIDI I/O, but multichannel I/O with all those audio ports. You can use just a USB cable to connect to the Roland MX-1 mixer, too, via what they call AIRA Link. You can also even route round-trip to the TR-8S’ effects from a computer. (Why would you do that? Simple – still more controls, all in the same interface.)
Loads of I/O – input plus separate outputs/triggers. Connect to a computer, and all of this is also an audio/MIDI interface.
Flexible lighting. It’s not just the green trim that’s gone. The LEDs now seem designed for users and not just to look flashy in music retailers. So in addition to dimming the lights, you can set color and glow options to keep track of what you’re using.
What it’s like to use
The important thing to me about the TR-8S isn’t really its power on paper, but the fact that you get all of this as something you can play and improvise with.
There’s some light menu navigation required to get things working the way you want – deciding what the CTRL knob for each part does, adjusting a particular parameter, selecting your kit.
But then once that’s done, everything is accessible without menus or complexity of any kind, in a spacious, obvious control layout. That frees you up to focus on rhythm and sound, directly through physical interaction – not through a bunch of programming and editing.
I spent an afternoon with Nick de Friez from Roland here in Berlin, combining the TR-8S with a MakeNoise 0-Coast semi-modular synth and an original Roland SH-101. (A newer SH-01A would be an obvious substitute.)
We actually had two TR-8S units on hand, so … we used both of them.
And here’s some extended audio of the four instruments together. Some of those crazy sounds are the new effects on the TR-8S:
What I learned here was: this is a heck of a lot of pure, unadulterated fun. And it’s fun that’s uniquely easy to share with others, because the front panel is roomy and easy to understand.
I’ve also uploaded audio – not so much to try to document the sound of the box, so much as the expanded range of rhythms and sounds that come from its new functionality, and how freeing that might be in a real-world live improv.
Roland’s own moniker for the first TR-8 was “rhythm performer.” What’s cool about the TR-8S is that it actually delivers on that idea.
It was easy to see the first round of AIRA as just an inexpensive reboot of stuff from the past. But I think it’d be unfair to characterize the TR-8S that way. It now presents a really complete sequencing workflow, and a set of use cases for outboard gear (both analog and digital), and for combination with a computer.
Do you still need to be an 808/909/vintage Roland fan to apply? Yeah, probably. But that no longer has to be the end of the story.
What already promises to set the TR-8S apart is, it has an unparalleled amount of sequencing power right on the front power, coupled with those sounds.
Consider the main competitors in this price bracket. MFB’s boxes are cool, but they’re mainly about sound. Elektron’s Digitakt is cute and compact and powerful, but that power isn’t nearly as accessible under your fingertips – and it lacks separate outs for instruments and triggers. Arturia’s DrumBrute has full analog synthesis for each part coupled with dedicated controls specific to them, and 12 separate outputs. It’s arguably more focused as an instrument, to be sure – but it’s more limited in sound (synth only, no samples) and sequencing (roll your finger along a touch strip for live rolls, but none of the sub-step and more powerful variation and fill features of the TR-8S).
Here’s the funny thing: each of these boxes becomes a nice pairing with the TR-8S.
The first AIRA was middle-of-the-road thanks to a friendly interface and known sounds. But this one does that and then also can literally sit at the center of the other gear you might like to use. It removes the kind of limitations that might make you make boring sounds or boring music, but keeps the simplicity so that people can feel free to jam.
Really, if there’s anything bad to say about the TR-8S, it’s that Roland aren’t using their circuit modeling techniques to open up this box to new sounds. We have software with great drum synths (including recent releases of Ableton Live and Maschine), and new hardware with new synthesized drum (Moog DFAM, Arturia DrumBrute), and modular, and so on. And we have a ton of music that already uses those sounds. The absence of solo and undo – plus MIDI transmit options – cry out for a firmware update already, too.
But apart from those criticisms, everything about this box – the balance of the design, its capabilities – represents the best of what we’d hope for from Roland. And I think the combined utility of this box will make it wildly popular onstage.
Expect this to be one of the devices that helps lead the charge toward spreading more live sets.
There’s more to say about the specifics of how MIDI and performance options work (and some room for improvement in some of these details for future firmware updates). So expect more on this topic soon, plus some videos Roland is producing on how the gear is used.
Roland’s 1.10 DJ controller update adds a bunch of features – and plays to the machines’ strengths, drawn from the TR drum machine line, as live machines.
First, a recap:
The DJ-202/505/808 line may look like bog-standard Serato controllers with Roland logos on. But they promise to be something else: DJ controllers made for people who also produce.
We already know that the “DJ” market involves a lot of producers dabbling in DJing and a lot of DJs dabbling in production. And anyone doing one or the other invariably finds they want to play a little, or do a remix, or finish a podcast, or practice mixing, or any of a number of things that might be served by DJ hardware.
So then the question is, what do you get? Two CDJs and a dedicated DJ mixer are expensive. Two turntables work, too, but that can be overkill if you want to play around with some digital files. So, then you’re back to a number of inexpensive DJ controllers, but they tend not to be much fun to play with, and they don’t have much utility in production.
That’s where the Roland/Serato line gets really appealing. The platters have extremely high precision and low latency drivers – meaning they work really well for beat-matching (including if you’re a producer learning to do that), and even some scratching. The 505 and 808 work well with turntables, too, meaning you can use a pair of decks with Serato for digital vinyl if you want. And, crucially, the 505 and 808 still function as mixers with the computer turned off.
I’d love to see other DJ gear that meets the above, but because of those jog wheels, there isn’t much.
What’s new in 1.10
It could have ended there, but it appears Roland is investing into making the DJ line better at the task. What Roland is calling their “1.10” firmware update is actually pretty hefty, particularly for the more full-featured 505 and 808.
Remember, the 505 and 808 really are AIRA drum machines as well as controllers. And even with a TR-909 sitting on my desk, they’re rather useful ones. So without plugging in a single cable, you’ve got these drum machines ready to play at a gig. They even work with the computer unplugged in standalone mode, so you don’t have a paperweight when your PC is off (like when a Windows 10 update is installing… grrrrr).
More sounds. [202, 505, 808] The DJ-808 adds low toms, rim shots, rides, and 606 crash and 808 cowbell to its 606/707/808/909 sounds. The DJ-202/505 add kits for 606 and 707 to their existing 808 and 909 – a total of twelve kits, up from eight. All round, you’ve got a lot of new kits and individual sounds – and you can swap those out live as you play for added variety.
These aren’t just samples, either – they feature the same component modeling approach you’ve heard in other Roland drum machines (and specifically the TR-8 AIRA), so they’re based on realistic digital models of the analog circuits. That’s why there are no “sound kits” to download or something like that.
TR-S master effects. [505, 808] The TR-S master effects include drive/distortion, a pretty punchy compressor, and new transient follower. All three let you drive your drum jams over a track.
Channel effects.  The DJ-808 also includes a new delay, phaser, a new noise effect, and bitcrusher. Since the DJ-808 also acts as a mixer/hub for gear, that’s… a lot of fun. The mic input also gets its own reverb, delay, and delay-reverb combo.
TR-S editing. [505, 808] The TR-S isn’t as full-featured as a dedicated sequencer/drum machine, but it already hides a lot of power. To that, you now have the ability to copy kits (DJ-505) and nudge and tap tempo (808).
TR-S step loop.  Also cool – now you can loop through just some steps instead of the whole loop on the TR-S sequencer, so handy both for Serato sequences and the drum machine.
Tweak settings. [202, 505, 808] My only slight frustration with the DJ-202/505 is that the jog wheel/platters are so sensitive, at first I was bumping the top surface of the platter while using the effects. (I’ve… learned not to do that.) There’s now a sensitivity adjustment buried in settings, which if decreased, seemed to me to have a negligible impact on accuracy but made it slightly harder to bump. It’s a “release” setting, so impacts when you let go of that jog. Your mileage may vary. All three models now also have a Backspin Length setting, which lets the wheel jog through more of the track than a single rotation normally would. I found that turning up this length let me jog through more of the track quickly.
And the DJ-808 is now a live hub
Look, if you’re going to splurge on DJ gear, most controllers leave you with big, unwieldy coffins that turn into paperweights when the computer is off and take up space when you want to remix or jam or produce.
So here’s what’s cool: the DJ-808 isn’t thatand it’s a vocal processor, and it’s a TR-8-style drum machine with 606/707/808/909 sounds onboard and effects. That gives you up to 11 stereo channels and one mic. And while this sounds a little – let’s say psycho – now we can compare space.
One table, plus two CDJs and a mixer and … uh, sorry, you’re pretty much out of space, and you’ve only got two decks.
One table, plus DJ-808, laptop, and some toys. Now you’ve got four decks, the mixer, a drum machine, and all your toys, and you can still plug in a mic and go to town.
Plus, bonus: all these inputs record to the recorder in Serato DJ. So, you don’t have the old problem of remembering a portable recorder / cables / flash memory card / the level was set wrong / the inputs weren’t all there / etc. etc.
Of course, the same is true if we’re talking at home.
Now, if you’re cringing because this might be a musical trainwreck with some DJs, hey, I didn’t say the thing would practice for you. But for people who are good at improvising on all this stuff, it’s a godsend.
The only bad news: the DJ-505 is crippled, in that the switches on the front let you choose either the external input or your laptop, but not both. I get that Roland may want to differentiate products here, but since the 808 does so much already, I hope the next firmware update lets us use its inputs all at once the way the DJ-808 did. The 505 is a lot more affordable and more portable than the 808, and it still packs the essentials.
You hear that, Japan? There’s my 1.20 firmware wishlist.
Anyway, 1.10 downloads are available for all the hardware. And the TR-S is so much fun on the DJ-505 that I’m finishing now a separate guide to using it as a performance tool, plus guides to mapping the whole range to VJ applications. Stay tuned.